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What Does the Tail Tell you?

By 5 8
Cats
Credit: Self

Cats may seem like a mute creature except for the occasional meow for food or attention. I have been in the company of many cats in my life. I have found a rich language spoken by these furred creatures with their body language. I am going to focus on tail-speak despite the cues and messages you can understand from ears, whiskers, and bellies. See if you and your feline have new understanding and closer relationship after you know what they are saying to you.

Straight Up

When my felines approach me with a tail that is straight I know they are pleased to see me and ready for me to interact with them. I can safely stroke their fur or be playful without fear of attack. I try to let them rub on my hand which shows me where they want to be touched. If I do not pay attention, I may get a nasty response when I touch a part of their body that they do not want touched in that moment.

Straight With a Bent Tip

If my kitty walks toward me with a straight tail with the tip flicking side to side, I know they

Charlotte
are looking for more active contact. This is when I break out the cat toy that looks like a fishing pole with feathers on the end rather than a hook. If I ignore the signal that they are feeling playful, and I choose to pet their fur, then the encounter may end with a scratch or bite on my hand. I usually play with my cats in the morning for ten to twenty minutes to relieve their need to be a hunter. This lessens the chance of a flag-tail and a potential injury to absent mindedly petting their body without looking at what they are trying to communicate.

Puffed

When I see the tail of a cat puffed up, I know immediately one of two things is happening, either they are scared and trying to make themselves look bigger, or they are feeling very frisky and playing with another cat. This would be one of the most inappropriate times to pick up or touch my cat. I am very likely to get a bite or scratch because they are in hunter mode. If my cat is scared, I will make sure that my other cats leave them alone. If there is a rousing game of chase between them, I sit back and enjoy the show. If one tires and the game turns rough, I engage the more energetic critter with a laser or cat toy. This keeps the peace between my animals and maintains a happy equilibrium in my home.

Slow Wagging

Slow wagging tails have been a warning that I have overstimulated my cat with petting. This happens whether they are in my lap or on the ground. When I notice the slow wagging, I know that I should stop stroking their fur immediately. I do not have to put them on the ground, but if I ignore what the tail is telling me I may not get another warning, and I may end up with a scratch or bite to remind me to pay attention better next time.

Fast Wagging

I admit I have ignored the slow wagging tail, and my cat has been kind enough to give me further warning that I have overstimulated their body. The built-up energy needs an outlet, and while I may avoid getting bit or scratched, without a doubt one of my other cats will receive the brunt of my actions. Fast wagging can be accompanied by flattened ears and growling or whining noises. My cat may still not attack, but now it is my responsibility to calm them again. When I rouse my cats to a fever pitch then I immediately use a toy to release the tension, and everyone avoids injury.

Down

Isis
When the tail is down I know my pets are investigating something. They may see something curious outside the window or may be on their way to the litter box. If I want to pet them when their tail is down, I call their name and wait for them to respond. If they turn toward me with an upright tail, I know it is safe to pet them. If there is no response that is the unspoken wish to be left alone. If I choose to ignore the communication of the tail and pet my cat, then I am apt to be given a harsher signal which explains more loudly that they prefer to be untouched.

Down and Twitching

My cats enjoy chasing bugs, watching the neighborhood cats out of the window, and odd shadows on the wall. My cat will let me know how fixated they are by the twitching of their tail. When I see a twitching tail, I know they are in hunting mode and not aware of anything except their prey. This is another inappropriate time to try to pet and cuddle my cat. If I really want to pet them, then I call their name softly so I will not startle them. If they respond with a trill and straight tail, then I can proceed to cuddle. If the response is acknowledgement, and then they go straight back to what they were looking at, it is a kind request to be left alone.

Curled Around Feet/Body

Mungo curled
When the tail is wrapped around the feet or the body, I know my pet is in resting mode. That does not mean that a caress would not be enjoyable, but a verbal cue is the best way for me to ask my cat if they want to be touched. If there is no response, I know to leave them alone. When I hear a trill, or they walk to me, I know this is an invitation to enjoy petting them.


Cats are not the mysterious creatures they seem to be. Cats are constantly communicating with us. It is vital to notice what your cat is telling you if you want a harmonious relationship. Start with the tail and see how quickly you become a cat whisperer.

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Comments

Feb 22, 2014 12:32pm
RoseWrites
What a great explanation of how many ways cats communicate with us. I have a cat now that moves her tail (even when she seems content). I wonder if it's because of some past injury (she was a rescue). I agree, almost every cat I've owned has always given me ample warning she's "had enough" or is "too busy" for me right now (with tail signals). Thank you for such an informative page.
Feb 22, 2014 2:06pm
EBChristine
I'm delighted that you enjoyed the article. Thank you for your kind comment.
Feb 27, 2014 3:53pm
BoomerBill
Thanks, that's helpful. Learning warning signs will keep me from being scratched!
Feb 27, 2014 7:31pm
EBChristine
Glad to oblige! Thanks for the comment BoomerBill!
Mar 17, 2014 5:14pm
JLMThompson
Very informative article. I have a cat that will ask for loving and then after a few moments abruptly change her mind and scratch. I think I will watch her tail for signs of the impending scratch. I also just love the look of a cat's tail curled gently around her feet, very sweet and cozy. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Mar 17, 2014 6:16pm
EBChristine
You're welcome! Thanks for the comment!
Mar 28, 2014 4:05am
Faye
It is amazing how much our pets talk to us - if only we would bother to listen :D

Great intro on the tail - too often people get confounded when they get whacked coz they ignored the swishing tail and blame the cat for doing something 'out of the blue'. Noticing body language like this is bound to make any home more peaceful and miscommunication-free
Mar 28, 2014 5:57am
EBChristine
Thanks for the comment Faye!
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